Ryan Briscoe in qualifying at Long Beach - Anne Proffit photoEnlarge Photo
Ryan Briscoe won pole position for the 38th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on Saturday afternoon--Team Penske's fourth straight--with his lap of 103.264 mph in knockout Firestone Fast Six qualifying, easily besting the 2011 mark set by teammate Will Power of 102.582 mph.
In fact, five of the six drivers in the third and final bout of time trials did better with the new Dallara DW12 than they had in 2011 with the older Dallara and a single, spec Honda engine riding on Firestone Firehawk tires.
With IZOD IndyCar Series engine competition in 2012--and a rule that limits costs to the teams by forcing mileage of at least 1850 miles or facing 10-grid-spot penalties--between Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus, Chevrolet's decision to sacrifice this race in order to (hopefully) keep engines intact for the Indianapolis 500 played out mightily in the 26-car field.
Yes, Briscoe won the pole, gets the point and the glory for a day, but he's going to start 11th on Sunday for the 85-lap contest over Long Beach's treacherous 1.968-mile, 11-turn circuit. There are five Chevy drivers in the top six as Power is second quick (103.116), 2010 Long Beach winner Ryan Hunter-Reay turned the third best lap (103.102), EJ Viso is fifth at 102.630 and James Hinchcliffe took sixth place with his 102.365-mph lap.
Dario Franchitti starts on pole at Long Beach - Anne Proffit photEnlarge Photo
Nonetheless, they'll all start mid-pack and fourth qualifier Dario Franchitti's Team Target Honda-powered Indy car sits at the top of the heap (102.630 mph), with seventh qualifier and rookie Josef Newgarden second in Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing's Honda-powered DW12.
Confused? You should be. INDYCAR isn't releasing a full grid until Sunday morning, pending the possibility of other engine changes overnight.
So we'll run you through the 26-car grid so you know who's going to the back--as of Saturday evening--and who's moving on up to the nosebleed end of the grid. Please note that the engine of choice is marked with a C, an H or an L:
Ryan Briscoe - C
Will Power - C
Ryan Hunter-Reay - C
Dario Franchitti - H
EJ Viso - C
James Hinchcliffe - C
(R) Josef Newgarden - H
Helio Castroneves - C
Justin Wilson - H
Tony Kanaan - C
(R) Simon Pagenaud - H
Scott Dixon - H
Takuma Sato - H
Mike Conway - H
Graham Rahal - H
JR Hildebrand - C
Charlie Kimball - H
Marco Andretti - C
Rubens Barrichello - C
Oriol Servia - L
Alex Tagliani - L
James Jakes - H
Ed Carpenter - C
Sebastien Bourdais - L
(R) Katherine Legge - L
Simona de Silvestro - L
Servia is the quickest Lotus driver but he, along with Bourdais and Legge were already consigned to the rear for engine changes and will be joined by others meeting the same fate. There are other engine quibbles going on in the paddock, having to do with the turbocharger rules, which designates a choice of two specific A/R (which we assume means air restrictors) for either single or twin Borg Warner turbochargers. Honda changed their A/R but there's been a disagreement that forces Honda to run the spec that they had been using in the first two races - unless that, too, changes before Sunday's race!
Polesitter Briscoe knew his fate all along and said, "We just have to go with it. You've got to trust Chevrolet's judgement in this position and the important thing is we know we have got fast cars. It is tough trying to pass here, but the first thing is having reliable engines."
Franchitti said his car felt good in both practice and qualifying. "We made some changes between the first session and second, and knew we were going to be on the pole in Firestone Fast Six. But we still wanted to earn it," he said. "We didn't quite have it in the car so we'll go and see what happens from here."
Saturday's weather turned bright, sunny, cool and quite windy and similar conditions are expected for Sunday's race, albeit perhaps with a little less wind a bit better ambient temperatures.
Who will start where? Does it matter? The answer is where everyone stands after 85 laps here at The Beach. Last year Mike Conway showed you can win this race by passing cars (he started third but had difficult pit stops and had to fight back) so this could be the most competitive Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach we've ever seen.
The race is telecast on NBC Sports Network, beginning at 3:30PM EDT.